Monday, August 13, 2007

Consecrated Doritos

Granted it's only August, but this may deserve the "Anomic Anglicanism" award for 2007.


bls said...

No, I think this is a reasonable exception to the rule. It's not a parish setting, after all, and everything given by God is blessed - even Doritos and Pepsi for kids in a Psychiatric Hospital.

I don't find fault with this at all. In fact, I think he's right.

bls said...

(To be clear, I would strongly object if this were done in a parish on an ordinary Sunday just to be "irreverant" and/or "hip." But under these conditions, I don't object at all.)

Bryan+ said...

I appreciate your comments, bls, but I strongly disagree.

As clergy, we have taken vows to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church. There is nothing in either the Prayer Book or in canon law that allows us to use doritos in the place of bread for the Eucharist. Likewise, we are not authorized to use oreos and milk (wonderful as they are), or gin & tonic and white cheddar cheetos (one of my favorite snack combos).

On the contrary, the Prayer Book rubrics are quite specific in repeatedly referring to "bread" and "wine." I take this to mean that we are not authorized to use non-fermented grape juice, either.

I also fail to see why this particular context makes the use of doritos reverent, whereas it would be irreverent to use doritos in a parish on an ordinary Sunday. Actually, I think that this way of making Eucharist is patronizing. Just because they’ve suffered physical and mental abuse, these kids get treated like they’re second-class citizens, as though they don’t deserve bread and wine like everyone else.

I think that this is a case of the Church functioning as "a delivery system for empathy" (as one of my colleagues calls it) rather than the Church offering sound pastoral practice.

Too often, we've allowed the word "pastoral" to get reduced to meaning "what makes people feel good." But what feels good doesn't always address people's deepest needs, and thus what appears "pastoral" on the surface can sometimes be a cover for trivialization and even cruelty.

It would have made far better sense to first make Eucharist in the normative way, and then have a big party (call it an agape feast).

In another embrace of anomic Anglicanism, this priest also openly celebrates (and in a diocesan publication, no less!) his violation of Canon I.17.7, which states, "No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church."

It's fine for folks to disagree with this teaching of our Church (there are good arguments pro and con being made these days). But it's not okay for clergy to openly break their vows in this way.

If clergy are allowed to break their vows without any consequences, what message is our Church sending about the need to keep solemn promises – including the promises made in the Baptismal Covenant and Holy Matrimony?

Sadly, the message we send is this: Episcopalians are free to set aside our vows whenever we feel like doing so.

bls said...

I think that this is a case of the Church functioning as "a delivery system for empathy" (as one of my colleagues calls it) rather than the Church offering sound pastoral practice.

I agree. And I think that's what it should be, in certain cases - like this one, for instance.

And again: there's nothing wrong with, or second-rate about, chips and pepsi. Why do you feel it's irreverant? I don't think it is, that's not the intent at all. Some parishes offer grape juice to people who can't drink alcohol, and gluten-free bread to those who can't eat wheat. I don't find these things problematic at all.

And I don't think it's wrong to offer Communion to unbaptized people in this case, either. Again, it's not a parish setting; it's "extraordinary circumstances." I think exceptions are often made for things like this, aren't they?

bls said...

I do agree that "norms should be norms," don't get me wrong. That willy-nilly violations on the whim of the priest are not correct.

But this is not an ordinary situation; non-Catholics are even allowed to receive Catholic communion in extraordinary circumstances, like illness.

Bryan+ said...


To me, what this priest has done parodies, trivializes, and renders ridiculous one of the most sacred things we do in the Church. It would be funny if it were in a Monty Python skit. But to do this for real?! The offense I feel in response is almost beyond words ...

Perhaps it's an indication of just how wide the chasm is between those who applaud this sort of thing and those who find it deeply offensive that I simply cannot imagine giving it approval.

BTW, there's nothing in the Prayer Book or in the canons that allows giving communion to the unbaptized in "extraordinary circumstances." Yes, in practice, it does happen. Sometimes clergy do it because they have arrogated to themselves an authority that belongs only to General Convention (hardly an "extraordinary circumstance"). And sometimes they do it for reasons that can be quite pastorally complex.

I strongly disapprove of the former, but I can see the latter happening in genuinely "extraordinary circumstances" - but always and only as the exception that upholds rather than negates the norm (and as something that should be debriefed afterwards with an eye towards the possibility of baptism).

bls said...

Fr. Bryan, I'm very sure that kids in Psychiatric Hospitals are not allowed to have wine or any sort of alcohol. So in fact, it would be quite wrong to give it to them.

IOW, it would have to be grape juice at the very least, so the canons are already violated. I really don't think this is a very good example of what you're talking about. I definitely don't think it deserves the Award of the Year.

Jesus didn't give his disciples little wafers with crosses on them, either, you know. The Church itself adapted for practical reasons.

I don't find it offensive at all, sorry.

Bryan+ said...

I had my first communion with real wine when I was 13 years old in a Presbyterian boarding school (I was raised Methodist, so I grew up on grape juice). The law allowed us to use real wine for religious purposes, and the chaplain made a point of telling us that before the service began. The same might be true in this case.

However, since this is a psychiatric hospital, I would have everyone dip the bread in the wine rather than having the kids sip from the cup as an additional safeguard.

You write: "Jesus didn't give his disciples little wafers with crosses on them, either, you know. The Church itself adapted for practical reasons."

True, but those little wafers are still bread rather than Doritos. Or Twinkies.

I'm not always persuaded by argumentative appeals to what Jesus didn't do or didn't say as a method for debunking what is theologically normative in the Church. Sometimes making that move divorces Jesus from His Body the Church - a move that ironically unites some conservative Protestants and some Enlightenment Rationalists in their diatribes against catholic faith and practice.

bls said...

No, you're not understanding. A not-small percentage of people in Psychiatric Hospitals have serious substance abuse problems, and most are on psychotropic meds.

They're not allowed to touch alcohol of any sort; it just wouldn't be permitted. In the case of addicts and alcoholics, it's completely out of the question for fear of a relapse. I'm sure the priest is not allowed to bring wine.

I guess we'll have to "agree to disagree" on this one.

Fr. Reich said...

O.K…so I couldn’t resist. This is an interesting situation…and kind of reminds me a General Ordination Examine question. Which also leads me to a little reflection on all of this:

A Sacrament defined: an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace and a sure and certain means of God’s favour towards us.

A sure and certain means…to insure that sure and certain means, there are standards whereby which the Church outlines the principals of use, not to act in the place of God, but to adhere as closely as possible to the revelation and sacred tradition that protects those sure and certain means.

These are a few of the characteristics of validity:

Form: Bread and Wine (actually wheat bread and wine of red grapes.) This is b/c it is understood this is what Our Lord employed and our best attempt to adhere.
Matter: A baptized Christian. If the Eucharist is the Body and Blood then the sure and certain means of Grace is union with Christ. And with that union comes a requirement on our part (see the Apostles exhortation or pg. 314 on the BCP). The requirements dictate a relationship with Christ…
Intent: to do what the Church has always done. That is to represent the sacrifice on Calvary and partake in the life of the Risen Christ beginning through Baptism and a life lived to Christ.
Minister: Must be a Bishop or Priest. The priest is set aside, changed make anew to confect this sure and certain means of God’s grace and carries with him the authority to do so. So, if some good hearted layman says mass, grace might be involved, but it is not sacrament.

And it is the same in the case spoken of in this thread. While the intention might have been good and noble (while questionable) and while God’s grace might have been involved (can’t be certain given that it falls outside the bounds of Sacrament) it was a misguided, confused, attempt at showing the people Jesus.

From what I read, none of the conditions were attempted to be followed, rather something was invented with the idea that God would be present indeed.

So, why not stop trying to create something ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ and give the people God’s blessing through the priestly ministry…and why not then try and set things up correctly as to teach them and instruct them properly in the Christian faith.

As a side note, I have said mass in a prison setting, where wine was not allowed…so with the permission of the warden, only enough was brought in and used at the altar (I consumed the entirety) and the hosts (or leaven wheat bread if you wish) were then distributed in the knowledge that Jesus is verily and fully present under both species, or fully present in one.

Sure, it took some extra work, and no it was not hip…but the inmates went through the process, examined their consciences, were baptized, and met their Lord.

While sacraments are sure and certain means of God’s grace…it does not mean they are the only means of God’s grace…perhaps it would be better to contemplate that a little more before decisions are made that just might cause more misunderstanding and certainly folly in the eyes of most.

In the end, what can we truly say was accomplished by all of this? Someone doing what they thought was right regardless of a cloud of witness. And just how does that help anyone?

Fr. Reich said...

I forgot to comment on the communion in extremis. It is occasionally practiced on deathbeds and other types of situations. Those situations also require what is called a “Baptism of Desire” wherein, if at all humanly possible, the person in extremis would receive the sacrament of Baptism before receiving the Holy Eucharist. So even in cases where communion is received before Baptism, the desire for baptism is present (even if not available)

That is not to say that this type of thing is done in the parish setting…I knew of a Roman priest who employed it once in an emergency room at the time of death. But it is rare and it is extreme.

Hope that helps.

Bryan+ said...

fr. reich and bls,

Thank you both for a challenging discussion!

fr. reich, I appreciate your bringing us back to the basics of sacramental theology. You're rounding out some of the concerns I have about why this particular (and, in my opinion, deeply misguided) attempt to be pastoral is precisely that: deeply misguided.

bls, you raised the issue earlier about the problem of even priests bringing alcohol - even for Holy Communion - into psychiatric hospitals where a percentage of patients are, indeed, there precisely because of substance abuse problems.

I appreciate your flagging that. It's a very serious issue, indeed.

All I can tell you in response is that, in my former parish, I had a parishioner who was committed to such an institution. He was an alcoholic and drug addict who had attempted suicide (for the 2nd time). With the knowledge and consent of the institution, I took communion from the reserved sacrament - REAL communion (as in bread and wine, not doritos and pepsi) - to my parishioner. I intincted the wafer for him, rather than allowing him to take the cup for himself.

In addition to all of the other problems I have with the particular case that inspired my posting, I think another one is this (and I say this without any intention of going personal, but strictly from a professional perspective as a priest): a lack of pastoral imagination.

bls said...

Fr. Bryan, I'm not one to say what another individual should do, but I would not give wine to an alcoholic who's just been committed to a Psychiatric Hospital. I can understand your point about intincting, but I will also say that many people who have problems with alcohol and drugs should absolutely not go near them in early recovery.

I have been sober for 25 years myself, and although I do receive the wine at Communion now (sometimes by intincting and sometimes from the cup), I didn't do it until a few years ago and sometimes even now wonder whether it's a good idea.

And when you add the fact that these are kids - one as young as 6 years old - I definitely think the priest is doing the right thing. A 6-year-old landing in a Psychiatric Hospital is almost beyond explanation and there's absolutely nothing normal or reasonable about it. The priest is trying, as a friend of mine wrote, to feed these kids spiritually, and God bless him for that.

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. In my view, the priest is absolutely trying to do the right thing, and I'd never fault him for it. My friend thinks Ritz crackers might have been a better bet - but neither of us works with these kids, or knows anything about the situation, so we defer to his judgment about how best to handle this. My friend also says there's nothing in the Prayer Book except the instruction that the elements used be bread and wine - and that bread is synecdoche for food in Scripture, and the wine can be as weakly fermented as anybody desires.

Bryan+ said...

Dear bls,

I appreciate what you're saying, and I fully agree that there are issues involved here that are quite complex. Different cases sometimes require quite different responses.

Having said that, I still reject what this priest has done in this particular case.

So, as you noted in an earlier comment, we will have to agree to disagree on this one!